“I wish my players would talk more.” “I wish we had better teamwork” “Man our team does great until something goes wrong and they just can’t seem to bounce back.” “We don’t have a team leader” “They’ve accepted losing as an inevitability.” Have you ever found yourself saying anything like this? Thinking about your team and just wondering what’s missing. You can see some individual talent and skills but for some reason they just aren’t succeeding in the way you thought they should. If you answer yes to any of that, my next question is, have you done anything to intentionally develop your team’s leadership skills?
If you answered no to that question, don’t worry I don’t think you are alone. I have been involved in the game through playing and coaching for nearly 20 years and none of the teams I played on had leadership specific training and neither did any of the ones I coached or assisted coaching with. Like most of you, I’m sure time is limited. Perhaps you only get 90 to 120 minutes a day to practice with your athletes, 5 maybe sometime 6 days a week during preseason and then once the season begins you only have 2 – 3 days to practice because you are playing games on the other days. That’s not a lot of time to go over offensive sets, defensive sets, rebounding, sideline out of bounds, baseline out of bounds, breaking pressure, applying pressure, late game situations, shooting, dribbling, etc. Trust me I totally get that. It always seems like we could use a little more time to work on something else. Let me ask you this though, what % of the game relates to leadership skills? For the sake of this questions we’ll define leadership skills as the following communication, ability to rebound from adversity, accepting and giving good feedback, accountability and responsibility, empathy, listening, and being a part of something bigger than oneself.
Obviously the abilities to dribble, pass, shoot, and defend along with a person’s athleticism make up a good portion of the success in basketball pie, but how much do you assign to leadership? 10, 20, 30%? With that percentage in mind would it be worth it to spend 30-60 minutes a week trying to develop those skills? For a team who only has five 90 minute practices a week, committing 30 minutes a week towards leadership would be 6.667% of their total time leaving 93.333% for everything else. So I wonder can you afford not to spend that time on leadership.
This past season, I decided I was going to add a leadership development component to our season. Our team had lost all 5 starters from the previous year’s State Championship team and we only had two returning players who played during our payoff run. Over our summer basketball I could tell we were lacking a leader on the team. Speaking with my assistant coach it wasn’t clear who would become that leader either. So we decided the best bet was to work to develop everyone and see who emerged and best case scenario we’d end up with 12 athletes who were all better leaders.
As part of my job I teach leadership skills often. I’ve worked with college students, corporate executives, tissue paper mills employees, grocery store managers, hospital employees and more. I don’t share this to brag but to give you a baseline of understanding about my abilities. Even knowing my own skill and experience in the field I decided to use a program called Lead Em Up. If you are not familiar with it, check out their website www.leademup.com. This was a 12 week program that included leadership topics and relevant games designed to fit the topic and further the growth of your team. It was a financial commitment on my part as our program had no budget for this type of thing, so I paid out of pocket. It was totally worth it.
I could not have asked for better results. Our team grew in leaps and bounds over the year. While our record was much worse than the previous year, what you could see in these athletes is a developed belief in themselves and their teammates. An empathy for their teammates circumstances, an ownership of their success and failures and always focusing on what was next. This was not the same team that I had over summer, this was a group of young athletes growing into men over the course of a year.
I don’t write this blog to sell you on Lead Em Up. That is the program I chose to use and I am thoroughly happy with it and would choose to use it again in the future. I’m writing this to convince you of the value of committing less than 10% of your total time to develop your athletes into leaders. Whether you choose to use Lead Em Up, create your own leadership program, or borrow from someone else the benefits will certainly show on the court but even more importantly they’ll show off it. And isn’t that why we coach anyway? To develop young athletes into future leaders in whatever path they choose once the sport ends.
Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear what your program is doing to develop leadership. Also would love to answer any questions you have about my experience with Lead Em Up.
State championship winning basketball coach, Chris Woodside, shares his journey of going from varsity boys coach, to becoming a men's college coach, to currently coaching girls varsity basketball as well as life lessons learned on + off the court.